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Eric Peterson, Published February 28 2012

Peterson: Patience puts VCSU back in nationals

Fargo - At least the adversity came early in the season for the Valley City State women’s basketball team. That’s what coach Jill DeVries viewed as the positive.

That gave her young team a chance to grow after the team’s two seniors played a combined five games. One had a season-ending knee injury late last summer and never played a minute. The other senior left the team after five games.

In addition, sophomore Brittany Lehner, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, also missed eight games during one stretch in the first half of the season.

“A lot of the things we didn’t anticipate happened early, so we really did kind of have a chance to develop some depth,” said DeVries, the former North Dakota State women’s basketball standout who is in the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame.

Now the team, which had a

3-7 record at one point and didn’t have an above-.500 record until the middle of December, is headed back to the national tournament for a second consecutive season.

The Vikings (19-14) earned an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II tournament by finishing in second place at the Association of Independent Institutions over the weekend.

“I’m very proud because this group has had to go through some adversity to get to where they’re at,” said DeVries. “They are very young and they are very resilient.”

The Vikings have three juniors, a sophomore and freshman in their starting lineup. The team’s top five players off the bench are all freshmen. VCSU started two freshmen at the AII tournament after junior guard Katelyn Ralston hurt her shoulder in the final game of the regular season.

Ralston is the team’s No. 2 scorer behind Lehner.

VCSU even endured a late-season four-game losing streak that included two losses against No. 7-ranked Jamestown College.

The Vikings upset the Jimmies in the semifinals of the AII tournament, which was in Madison, S.D. VCSU had lost the three previous meetings with Jamestown College this season.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, but we’ve been able to stay strong and stick together throughout it,” said Lehner, a 5-foot-10 forward from Watertown, S.D., who averages 11 points and six rebounds per game. “It has been working out.”

The NAIA is scheduled to set its 32-team field today. The Vikings are assured a spot in that field. Last season was the first time in program history that VCSU had made the national tournament.

Junior guard Courtney Titus, from Hankinson, N.D., and Lehner are the only two players were part of last year’s run to the national tournament.

“Last year it was such a big deal, because we’ve never done it before,” said Lehner. “This year with all the ups and downs, it really means a lot, and that says a lot about us I think.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com